In early 2019, Brussels and Rome Municipality XII blocked a bid to raise allowable wireless radiation limits to International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) levels which effectively halted the 5G pilot programmes in those cities.
Mobile phone companies promise that new 5G networks will contribute billions to the world’s economies owing to their super fast speeds that can accelerate smart cities, homes and driverless cars. But the impending roll out of 5G has not come without its controversies.
Background to the EU decision
In 2017, a group of 170 scientists flagged their concerns about 5G technology to the European Union. They cited what they called the harmful effects of long term radio frequency electro magnetic fields (RF-EMF).
The 170 concerned scientists cited a study which showed a statistically significant increase in cancer in animals exposed to electromagnetic fields, carried out by the US National Toxicology Program.
The scientists argued that there will be a need for a huge increase in numbers of 5G transmitters required in order to extend the reach of 5G, and bearing in mind the National Toxicology Program’s results, that this was a dangerous step forward.
What do the World Health Organisation say?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently studying whether radiation from mobile networks is harmful, precisely to try and settle the disagreements amongst different groups of researchers.
There have already been 25,000 scientific articles published on non-ionising radiation over the past 30 years, and that the evidence from them doesn’t confirm any health consequences from our exposure to low-level EMF from mobile phones.
Perhaps unhelpfully, WHO declared that mobile devices are a ‘Class 2B carcinogen’. Whilst this sounds like something to avoid, other Class 2B Carcinogens include coffee, and pickled vegetables.
Are there any other concerns about 5G?
As with any new technology, there are detractors. There is expected to be a huge increase in numbers of connected devices and of traffic expected over 5G networks. This has led to concerns both about power consumption and energy-related pollution.
5G promises to deliver 1,000 times as much data over networks compared to that shared today. But with increased data comes the possibility of a comparable increase in energy use. Whilst the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has published tough requirements for data rates, latency and reliability, they’ve not backed this up with similarly challenging requirements for energy consumption.
Traditionally, mobile networks use about 15 or 20% of their power consumption on actual data transfer, with any unused energy being wasted as heat. Is there scope to increase energy efficiency to harness this wasted power with 5G?
It seems so; with refinements to software and hardware, clever use of multiple-input, multiple-output base stations, ultra lean design and the capacity to put 5G transmitters to sleep when not in use, there are suggestions that 5G could use less power than existing 4G base stations on average.
The problem with 5G would seem to be more of public perception than actual negative effects of the technology, whether health or of power consumption.
Phone providers do a great job of extolling the virtues of 5G in terms of superfast downloads and super-low latency and all that these can bring.
Maybe the world needs to see the industry face the perceived problems of health and increased power consumption, and offer level headed answers to some of the public’s heartfelt concerns, whether their concerns are based on the science or not.